Flax to Linen: Spinning

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner and Homeplace Earth

Growing your own fiber to spin and weave into fabric for clothes is an exciting endeavor. However, it requires many skills that are no longer the norm. We have to relearn what and how to grow, how to spin and weave, and how to sew. I already had the skills of growing and sewing before I started this adventure. Even at that, there was still much to learn.

Some of you may have planted flax for linen this year, which I talked about in a previous post. Whether you are growing it or not, you can still learn to spin it. At the beginning of this journey I had the good fortune to be in Wisconsin for the Mother Earth News Fair and took the opportunity to visit Woolgatherers, where I purchased flax to spin, a spindle, and plans for flax processing equipment. I’ll write about the processing equipment in a future post. I also bought flax online from Paradise Fibers. Other sources of flax include the Woolery, Mielke’s Fiber Arts, and Yarn Barn of Kansas. I’m sure there are more places you might find it. The end result of this project is linen, however it begins as flax. Once the fiber is spun, it is called linen. You will spin flax fibers to produce linen thread or yarn, to be woven or knitted into linen garments.

Flax for spinning is available as a flax strick, also known as line flax, and as flax roving. Line flax is what you will have if you are processing it yourself, so you might as well learn to use that. If you are not careful, flax fibers can be unruly. Cotton, on the other hand, can be thrown in a basket and handled quite a bit before spinning. You will want to keep the flax fibers long and untangled. I’ve found the easiest way to do that is to hang the strick up as a ponytail and pull fibers to spin from the bottom. You could also roll a towel around the strick to keep the fibers in line and spin from the end. On the other hand, you could wind flax on a distaff. That is what you see in fairy tales, but it works just as well in 2017.

To spin you need a spindle or spinning wheel. My spinning wheel is shown in the first photo. Please don’t go out and buy a wheel just to try spinning flax. All you need is a spindle, which you can make from a wooden wheel, a dowel, and a hook. The homemade spindle you see here is the one I also use to ply cotton with. I have to admit, although this spindle is just fine for spinning flax, I purchased a Turkish spindle for the job. Someone gave me a spinning wheel and I now spin flax on both the wheel and the spindle, depending on where I am. Learn more about spinning flax, distaffs, and how I made my choices of spinning equipment at Homeplace Earth.

Since making flax straw into linen is not something you normally see, except maybe in a museum, it is easy to think that it is not something you can try at home. In fact, even if you see a demonstration in a museum, you still might think that. I am here to tell you that you can do this at home. Of course, you will need the right equipment, which most likely you will have to make, but I have confidence you can do this. Stay tuned this year and I will lead you through flax and cotton from seed to garment.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.